KIRAN: Judge Trudy White NOT moving to civil bench

Judge Chip Moore (Source: 19th JDC)
Judge Chip Moore (Source: 19th JDC)
Judge Don Johnson (Source: 19th JDC)
Judge Don Johnson (Source: 19th JDC)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Judge Trudy White will remain on the criminal bench while Judge Richard "Chip" Moore and Judge Donald Johnson will swap dockets. Judges White and Moore currently serve on criminal benches but both requested to move to civil.

The judicial administrator issued a statement Tuesday saying Judge Johnson would move to the criminal bench on May 3, 2018 and take over Judge Moore's docket meaning Judge White will stay on the criminal docket.

On May 3, 2018, Judge Don Johnson, who presently presides over a civil docket (section XXVI), will be taking over a criminal docket presently handled by Judge Richard "Chip" Moore,  (section VI).  Accordingly, Judge Moore will be assuming the civil docket presently assigned to Judge Johnson.

The decision comes after last week's judges meeting in the 19th Judicial District Court. That meeting was Wednesday, March 28, but the meeting ended with no formal decision.

"The matter concerning the reassignment of dockets between two judges was discussed at the meeting today, but no decision was reached," said 19th JDC Judicial Administrator Ann McCrory in a statement last week. "When a decision is reached, the court will issue a statement as to that decision."

The meeting and request to swap dockets comes after a series of 9News Investigations into Judge White reducing Albert Franklin's bond from $88,000 to $9,000. Franklin was able to make that bond and is now charged with the first-degree murder of Zachary police officer and firefighter Chris Lawton.

In response to a records request, the 9News Investigators received the email where Judge Johnson requested to be moved. The email was dated March 16, 2018, with part of it reading, "…I discussed with Judge Trudy White the idea of swapping her criminal court docket and my civil docket. This morning Judge White graciously accepted my request."

Judge Johnson currently sits on the civil bench while Judge White has been on the criminal bench ever since she was elected in 2008. The two requested to swap benches, but Judge Moore also requested to move from criminal to civil.

Moving benches has historically been based on seniority. Judge Moore was sworn in to the 19th JDC in 2005, making him three years senior to Judge White.

The 19th JDC has 15 positions. Every judge is elected, but not to a particular section, such as criminal or civil. Instead, they're simply elected to serve the district as a whole. In East Baton Rouge Parish, there are eight criminal judges and seven civil judges.

Moving benches is not considered a promotion or demotion. Instead, it's a lateral move and does not involve a pay change. It's simply a personal preference of switching to a different set of laws and a different pace day to day. "You will see the criminal district judges dealing with more cases than you would on a given day with civil cases," said long-time Baton Rouge lawyer Skip Philips.

Judge White has come under some intense scrutiny with the way she has handled some of her cases.

Most recently, her reduction of Franklin's bond by $79,000 has been the subject of a series of 9News Investigations. The Zachary Police Chief, David McDavid, went as far as saying Judge White "had blood on her hands." Franklin was arrested in Nov. 2017 on numerous drug and gun charges as well as resisting an officer. Judge White's commissioner set his bond at $88,000. The next day, Judge White went in and reduced the bond to $9,000, according to court records. District Attorney Hillar Moore said the bond reduction was not done on the record and happened without a hearing. He added he nor any of his prosecutors were aware of a bond reduction.

In September 2015, a 12-person jury listened to a week-long trial for the murder of James Stockton. Stockson was shot and killed in July 2013 by his brother-in-law, Derrick Bland. All 12 jurors returned the same verdict: guilty of second-degree murder. But then presiding Judge Trudy White overturned the jury's unanimous jury's verdict and made it negligent homicide. Second-degree murder carries a mandatory life in prison sentence. Negligent homicide only has a maximum of five years behind bars.

In April 2016, the First Circuit Court of Appeal overruled Judge White's decision and reinstated Bland's second-degree murder charge.

In September 2010, a mother, Alexandra Engler, was gunned down and her then nine-year-old daughter was shot multiple times as she tried to run out the front door of their home in the historic Beauregard Town neighborhood. Engler's daughter was left for dead but miraculously survived. DNA linked Aramis Jackson to evidence left at the scene.

The year before the shooting, Jackson was arrested for illegal carrying of weapons and carrying a gun in a firearm free zone. In that case, the charges were dismissed and Judge Trudy White told Jackson to perform three random acts of kindness.

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